Alicia Mendoza and one of her kitties. Credit: PAWS

ENGLEWOOD — An Englewood angel needs your help.

Alicia Mendoza has spent the last 20 years saving feral and abandoned cats of Englewood, providing them food, shelter and a safe space to play. Now, during a dangerous Chicago cold snap, she is looking for help heating her home.

Mendoza’s furnace has been out of commission for nearly a year, after an attempt at repairing it resulted in a broken pipe and a melted wiring. She reached out to several different organizations for help, but was told she didn’t qualify for assistance.

“I couldn’t pay my mortgage,” said Mendoza, who was recently laid off from her nonprofit job of 20 years. A bankruptcy and a home equity loan taken out years prior also made her ineligible for Illinois’s Hardest Hit Fund, a program designed to help struggling homeowners.

A GoFundMe campaign started by her good friend George Black aims to raise $2,000 so she can buy a new furnace. So far, they’ve only raised $265.

The house in the 6500 block of South Sangamon Street is the only home Mendoza has ever known. She was raised by her grandparents, who left it to her after they passed. Maybe it was their passing that inspired her to start looking after cats that needed a meal and a warm place to stay, if only for a little while.

“As a youngster, I had a cat and a dog, so I’d always loved pets,” said Mendoza, 63. “So when I’d see them outside around the neighborhood, I’d bring them home, they’d eat and leave.”

Soon, one cat turned into 15, and folks from the neighborhood would drop off cats they were no longer able to care for. She’d get help from PAWS to spay, neuter and microchip them. Hyde Park Cats, a nonprofit cat rescue, has also been a big help.

Mendoza has been a PAWS volunteer since 2014, working with the group’s PAWS For Life program to help feral cats in need of care. Mendoza credits Laurie Maxwell, PAWS’s director of outreach, with helping her cats receive medical care.

“There was one cat that was seriously ill, and she took him to PAWS for help,” Mendoza said. “He was in the hospital part for a while, got well, and was adopted.”

She’s hoping that two of the cats she currently has will pass their assessments so that they, too, can have their happy endings.

Currently, Mendoza is using heaters to keep her brood warm, which puts a strain on her electricity bill. Before her furnace went out, a typical bill was $150, she said.

“Now it’s about $1,000 a month,” said Mendoza, who is looking for part-time data entry or customer service work. “I’ve been using my Social Security retirement benefits, but they aren’t enough to make ends meet. My daughter and grandson come to help when they can, but they have their own lives.”

“These cats don’t have voices to ask for help, and when I see them out there it really touches my heart,” Mendoza said. “And if I can be that person to help feed them and get them medical attention, I want to be able to help.”

Her friend Black said it’s time for the community to help Mendoza, who has spent so much of her time helping animals.

“She is a skilled at data entry and has excellent customer service phone skills if anyone knows of a local paid position,” Black wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Year after year I see her sacrifice so much so she can care for the discarded cats of Englewood. … Let’s get this boiler fixed once and for all.”

You can donate to help Mendoza here.

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